Lewisham Council spent £327,615.92 on staff gagging orders in the last year.

Non-disclosure agreements are legal contracts used to prevent people from discussing confidential information and keep trade secrets private.

They are often used in redundancy packages and generally when staff leave, but are also used to stop people talking about allegations of misconduct.

One of the 19 payments made under NDAs in 2019/20 relates to a member of staff still employed by the council, while the rest relate to staff leaving.

The figures emerged in response to a question from Sydenham resident Julia Webb during the People’s Audit.

A council spokesperson said NDAs are “usual practice”.

“Agreements between the council and staff or former staff contain confidentiality provisions, which is the usual practice between employers and employees as they protect both parties.

“They will always include standard exclusions such as any disclosure required under law as well as whistle-blower protections for an employee.

“The number and cost of settlements in the last financial year is not unusual for an organisation of the council’s size.

“In 2017-2018 the total number of settlement agreements was 24 and the global figure for settlements was £204,241.18,” she said.

It comes as the council’s annual statement of accounts showed that the amount of money it paid to staff leaving in 2019/20 had more than doubled compared to the year before.

The figures followed a large staff restructure earlier in the year, which included cuts to senior management roles. 

In total the council paid out £2.223 million to 119 staff in 2019/20, compared to £925,000 to 54 staff in 2018/19. 

The council is set to investigate the increase following a prompt from the vice chair of the public accounts committee, Cllr Alan Hall, at a meeting of full council on Wednesday (November 25). 

 The cabinet member for finance, Cllr Amanda DeRyk, said she would be “very happy” to “endorse a report coming to the audit panel in terms of the exit packages”. 

“Obviously when people have done many years of service at the council and leave then it is appropriate that we pay them accordingly, but I agree with you it would be good to investigate the increase,” she said. 

The exit packages include redundancy payments and extra costs for people who were granted access to their pensions early.